L.A. Confidential (1997) - Rotten Tomatoes

L.A. Confidential (1997)

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AUDIENCE SCORE

Critic Consensus: Taut pacing, brilliantly dense writing and Oscar-worthy acting combine to produce a smart, popcorn-friendly thrill ride.

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Movie Info

Based on the best-selling novel by James Ellroy and directed by Curtis Hanson, this award-winning crime drama explores both the dark side of the Los Angeles police force and Southern California's criminal underbelly in the early '50s, when Hollywood was still seen as America's capital of sophistication, glitter, and glamour. Dudley Smith (James Cromwell) is the head of the LAPD and is loyal to his officers and eager to turn a blind eye to violence or corruption within his department, as long as it's the "bad guys" who are getting hurt. Bud White (Russell Crowe) is a police detective whose violent and cynical nature is often at war with his basic sense of decency and justice. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is a beat cop-turned-detective whose strict by-the-book philosophy and willingness to blow the whistle on other officers is balanced by a shrewd and opportunistic understanding of the internal politics of the department. And Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a flashy "Hollywood" detective who serves as technical advisor for the TV series Badge of Honor. He is also in cahoots with Sid Hudgeons (Danny DeVito), publisher of the scandal sheet Hush Hush, who throws kickbacks to Vincennes in exchange for being brought along when showbiz figures get busted. White, Exley, and Vincennes find themselves drawn into a tangled and sticky web of violence and betrayal following a multiple murder at a coffee shop that is believed to be part of an effort by Mickey Cohen (Paul Guilfoyle) to consolidate his hold on organized crime in L.A. This lead appears to be connected to the discovery of a bizarre pornography and call-girl ring operated by Pierce Patchett (David Strathairn), whose women are given plastic surgery so that they more closely resemble well-known movie stars. White's role in the investigation is complicated when he falls for Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), one of Patchett's prostitutes, who is the spitting image of Veronica Lake. L.A. Confidential was nominated for nine Academy Awards and netted two, with Brian Helgeland honored for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Kim Basinger taking home a statuette as Best Supporting Actress. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi

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Cast

Russell Crowe
as Bud White
Kevin Spacey
as Jack Vincennes
Guy Pearce
as Ed Exley
James Cromwell
as Dudley Smith
David Strathairn
as Pierce Patchett
Kim Basinger
as Lynn Bracken
Graham Beckel
as Dick Stensland
Simon Baker
as Matt Reynolds
Matt McCoy
as Brett Chase
John Mahon
as Police Chief
Paul Guilfoyle (II)
as Mickey Cohen
Ron Rifkin
as D.A. Ellis Loew
Paolo Seganti
as Johnny Stompanato
Amber Smith
as Susan Lefferts
Danny DeVito
as Sid Hudgeons
Elisabeth Granli
as Mickey Cohen's Mambo Partner
Steve Rankin
as Officer Arresting Mickey Cohen
David St. James
as Detective at Hush-Hush Office
Sandra Taylor
as Mickey Cohen's Mambo Partner
Allan Graf
as Wife Beater
Fred Scialla
as Stand-In (Danny DeVito)
Symba Smith
as Jack's Dancing Partner
Bob Clendenin
as Reporter at Hollywood Station
Lennie Loftin
as Photographer at Hollywood Station
Will Zahrn
as Liquor Store Owner
Darrell Sandeen
as Buzz Meeks
Michael Warwick
as Sid's Assistant
Shawnee Free Jones
as Tammy Jordan
Matthew Allen Bretz
as Officer Escorting Mexicans
Thomas Rosales Jr.
as 1st Mexican
Shane Dixon
as Detective at Hollywood Station
Norman Howell Jr.
as Detective at Hollywood Station
Brian Lally
as Detective at Hollywood Station
Don Pulford
as Detective at Hollywood Station
Chris Short
as Detective at Hollywood Station
Tomas Arana
as Breuning, Dudley's Guy
Michael McCleery
as Carlisle, Dudley's Guy
George Yager
as Gangster at Victory Motel
Jack Conley
as Vice Captain
Ginger Slaughter
as Secretary in Vice
Jack Knight
as Detective at Detective Bureau
John H. Evans
as Patrolman at Nite Owl Cafe
Gene Wolande
as Forensic Chief
Brian Bossetta
as Forensic Officer
Gwenda Deacon
as Mrs. Lefferts
Mike Kennedy
as Bud's Rejected Partner
Ingo Neuhaus
as Jack's Rejected Partner
Robert Harrison
as Pierce Patchett's Bodyguard
Jim Metzler
as City Councilman
Jeremiah Birkett
as Ray Collins, Nite Owl Suspect
Salim Grant
as Louis Fontaine, Nite Owl Suspect
Karreem Washington
as Ty Jones, Nite Owl Suspect
Noel Evangelisti
as Stenographer
Marisol Padilla Sánchez
as Inez Soto--Rape Victim
Jeff Sanders
as Sylvester Fitch
Steve Lambert
as Roland Navarette
Jordan Marder
as Officer at Detective Bureau
April Breneman
as Look-Alike Dancer
Lisa Worthy
as Look-Alike Dancer
Beverly Sharpe
as Witness on `Badge of Honor'
Colin Mitchell
as Reporter at Hospital
John Slade
as Photographer at Hospital
Brenda Bakke
as Lana Turner
Kevin Maloney
as Frolic Room Bartender
Patrice Walters
as Police File Clerk
Rebecca Jane Klingler
as Police File Clerk
Irene Roseen
as District Attorney Ellis Loew's Secretary
Scott Eberlein
as West Hollywood Sheriff's Deputy
Bodie Newcomb
as Officer at `Hush-Hush' Office
Jeff Austin
as Detective
Henry Meyers
as Detective
Robert Foster
as Detective
Michael Ossman
as Detective
Kevin Kelly
as Detective
Dick Stilwell
as Detective
Henry Marder
as Detective
Jess Thomas
as Detective
Monty McKee
as Detective
Jody Wood
as Detective
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News & Interviews for L.A. Confidential

Critic Reviews for L.A. Confidential

All Critics (108) | Top Critics (32)

L.A. Confidential is a movie bull's-eye: noir with an attitude, a thriller packing punches. It gives up its evil secrets with a smile.

June 4, 2014 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

There are so many things to enjoy here. Director Curtis Hanson... keeps a complex story coherent and absorbing -- if bloody at the end.

June 4, 2014 | Full Review…

At the center of the movie are three mismatched cops with separately fueled ambitions, ferociously played by Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce. Their combined charisma almost smashes through the screen.

June 4, 2014 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

L.A. Confidential isn't quite up there with Chinatown, but it's the closest thing to come down the Santa Monica Freeway in the last 23 years.

June 4, 2014 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

Hanson has made the film noir setting virtually another starring character.

June 4, 2014 | Full Review…

Spicy and boiling-hot, this sensational early-'50s crime drama is a morality play disguised as pulp fiction -- a sprawling saga of corruption and redemption set against a flashy West Coast backdrop.

June 4, 2014 | Rating: 5/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for L.A. Confidential

Top notch film-making from first to last as three cops work to unravel a bloody crime spree that even leaves dead policemen in it's wake. The cast is glad to be here and are in for the action although Mr.R.Crowe manages to steal most of the limelight.

Kevin M. Williams
Kevin M. Williams

Super Reviewer

There was no stopping Titanic in 1997, iceberg be damned. James Cameron's epic disaster movie had all the momentum of the times, and yet it's a smaller movie that captured more of the critics and was far more deserving of the ultimate Oscar prizes that year. L.A. Confidential was based upon a James Ellroy novel that many argued was unfilmable. Enter journeyman director Curtis Hanson and novice screenwriter Brian Helgeland, and the pair stripped the book down from eight main characters to three, kept the spirit and essence of the book alive while rearranging the storylines for large-scale popcorn thrills. It's been nearly twenty years since L.A. Confidential first seduced big screen audiences and its powers are still as alluring to this day. It's a neo noir masterpiece. In 1950s Los Angeles, not all is what it seems. The captain of the police, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), is looking to keep the peace in the City of Angels as outside criminal elements are looking to fill the void from Mickey Cohen going to prison. Three police officers of very different stripes find themselves on the edges of a complicated murder case stemming from a massacre at the Nite Owl cafe. Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) is the son of a famous police captain and wants to rise up the ranks as quickly as possible. He's a political animal and unafraid of ruffling feathers. Bud White (Russell Crowe) is a bruiser of a man who enforces his own level of justice when it comes to men who beat or harass women. Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey) is a happily shady officer who serves as a consultant for a hit TV police procedural. The Night Owl case takes them into many sordid corridors of sex, money, and power, including Lynn Bracken (Kim Basinger), part of Pierce Pratchett's (David Strathairn) stable of prostitutes meant to look like movie stars, the mysterious self-serving sources to tabloid journalist Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), and good cops and bad cops on the controversial L.A. police force. This movie is a master class in plotting and structure, enough that it should be taught in film schools. By nature noir plots are meant to be busy and mysterious, and a guarantee for mystery is a Byzantine plot full of plenty of suspects, dispirit elements, and strange coincidences that eventually coalesce into a larger picture. The beauty of what Hanson and Helgeland have done is that they have made the script complex yet accessible, able to lose one's self in the tangled web of intrigue but still able to see how all the myriad pieces fit perfectly together by the conclusion. There is an efficiency to the screenwriting that is mesmerizing. It all seems so effortless when you're with storytellers this gifted or who have a divine connection to the source material. Forgoing the customary slow builds of recent film noir like the oft-cited Chinatown, L.A. Confidential just moves from the opening narration. Within the first 25 minutes, the movie has expertly set up all three of its main characters, what defines them, their separate goals, the obstacles in place, and previews how they will intersect into one another's orbit, and then the Nite Owl case explodes. Every scene drives this narrative forward. Every scene reveals a little more depth to our characters or fleshes out a superb supporting cast. Every scene cements that contradictory theme of the glitzy allure and unseemly darkness of the post-war City of Angels. My only quibble is that before the truncated third act the movie resorts to a few easy shortcuts but by that point Hanson and Helgeland had more than earned their paces. This is one of the greatest modern screenplays, period (WGA listed it as #60 all-time). There are so many remarkably assured sequences but I want to emphasize one in particular - Exley's interrogation of the three Nite Owl suspects. "Oh I'll break him," Exley promises his superior before entering into the first interrogation room. At first you're with the other officers and morbidly curious with his arrogance. By the end, your jaw hangs in amazement at the intuitive pressure this man is expertly applying. It's a terrific moment that allows Exley to masterfully manipulate three different men, taking pieces and running toward accurate insinuations, building momentum and clarity. Each man is different and each man offers a new piece of the overall puzzle. A slight reference by one unlocks another's confession. An overheard sound byte pushes another into self-defense. I'm convinced it was this scene that ensured robust and thorough interrogation was a crucial element of the gameplay for the 2011 video game L.A. Noire, a noble misfire that definitely looked to replicate Hanson's film as a user experience. Noir is one film genre with a visual code that can get the best of directors, but Hanson played this to his advantage. Classic noir is filled with criminal activity and the allure of sex and violence, typified perhaps best in the position of the untrustworthy but oh-so-sexy femme fatale. Yet the majority of film noir was produced in an era of censorship thanks to the implementation of the notorious Hayes Code, making sure that audiences didn't enjoy the sordid elements too far. Free of these restrictions, some modern filmmakers take the opportunity to revisit the noir landscape and fill in the blanks of old, furnishing an outpouring of unrestrained exploitation elements. Brian DePalma's 2006 film The Black Dahlia (also based on an Ellroy novel) gets drunk on this mission, though "restrained" has never been a word I would associate with DePalma's filmmaking anyway. My point, dear reader, is that it's easy to get lost in the superficial trappings of the genre: sexy dames, corrupt lawmen, temptation, shootouts, schemes, and chiaroscuro lighting. It's easy to dabble in these elements because they're so nostalgic and celebrated. Hanson did something different with his 1997 masterpiece. He builds upon the audience expectations with noir but he doesn't let his complex story and characters come second to the visual spectacle of the famous genre. L.A. Confidential is in many ways a movie that straddles lines; old and new, indie and Hollywood classicism, and film noir and drama. It's an adult film that doesn't downplay its darkness, brutality, and moral ambiguity, yet when it comes to those exploitation elements, especially sex, it's almost chaste. The relationship between Lynn and Bud seems refreshingly square, like it was pulled from Old Hollywood. The entire movie feels that way, an artifact that could exist any decade. Hanson was something of a journeyman for most of his career, directing competent thrillers like The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and The River Wild. As Variety film critic Owen Gleiberman wrote in his eulogy for Hanson (he died in September 2016, a fact I shamefully didn't know until writing this review), after 25 years in the industry the man became an earth-rattling auteur after the age of 50. That is a rarity. Who knew the guy had something this singularly brilliant within his grasp his entire career? The care he puts into the screen is evident from the opening montage onward. There's an elusive magic to the filmmaking on display, a bracingly divine sense of how to move the camera for best effect, how to escalate and deescalate audience nerves. He knows his story structure and characters inside and out, but he also knows how to play an audience. His time making serviceable studio thrillers certainly helps him during the film's climax, a bloody shootout that's also a mini-siege thriller. Hanson also assembled an incredible crew to enable his vision. The technical elements recreate the early 1950s L.A. time period with beguiling immediacy; the cinematography by Dante Spinotti (Heat) gives a sense of the darker elements just under the surface without having to overly rely upon the film language of staid noir visuals. Peter Honess' sharp editing provides a downright Thelma Schoonmaker-esque musical orchestration to the proceedings, especially as the multiple storylines and developments spill onto one another. Speaking of music, the score by Jerry Goldsmith (Star Trek) is thick with the jazzy overtones of the genre. It's a score that simmers with sexual tension and malevolence. The casting director deserves a lifetime free pass. There are a whopping 80 speaking parts in the movie, and each person is a great hire that builds a richer film. While the plot of L.A. Confidential sucks you in right away, its characters take hold the strongest. Film noir is one genre that has a codified cheat sheet of character archetypes, and this movie fulfills and subverts them, finding surprising and gratifying ways to further round out these figures into complex and nuanced human beings. The three main characters all provide a different approach to law enforcement and when we see them start to work together it's a wholly wonderful turn of events. Bud is the muscle, Exley is the brain, and Vincennes is the charm, and each one attacks the Nite Owl case and its subsequent leads from different angles that best apply to their set of skills. Each of the three characters discovers new pieces of evidence, new contacts and suspects, and when they start to work together it not only provides a payoff with the combined evidence but with the satisfying nature of their teamwork. That's because they become better people when they work together and each moves closer to some moral redemption. Bud is the loyal cop with a hair trigger and a penchant for being a white knight to abused women. His personal history of abuse makes him seek justice, often by his own fists. He has a rigid moral code of right and wrong and isn't afraid to cross lines to achieve it. He's also tired of being a bully and wants to be more than just the muscle. Exley is a straight arrow with a strong sense of moral righteousness and a mind for politics. He knows how to play sides for his own gain. He's not afraid of making enemies within the department, and his opportunistic choices create many. He's trying to forge his own path outside the shadow of his father, a famous lawman who was gunned down by a random purse-snatcher ("Rollo Tamassi"). He has to learn that he can't do everything on his own. Finally, Vincennes is in many ways the face of the department as an ambassador to the world of TV and film. He's succumbed fully to the glamour of Hollywood but he's also full of profound self-loathing, trying to count how many compromises he's made in life and where it's gotten him. The appeal of the old life is crumbling and his detective instincts are reawakened, spurring Vincennes into the fray and surprising even himself. It's extremely rare for any movie to successfully develop more than one protagonist, let alone three, and yet L.A. Confidential achieves this milestone so that when we alternate perspectives there isn't a drop in viewer interest. Each man brings something different and interesting, each man reveals new hidden depths, and each character is fascinating to watch in this setting. The gifted actors take the already excellent written material and elevate it even further, turning an already sterling movie into one of the all-time greats. Almost twenty years later, it's fun to see these famous actors when they were young and, arguably, in their prime. Spacey (House of Cards) was on a tear at this point in his career, between his two well-deserved Oscar wins, and having the time of his life in every role. His character seemingly has the least complexity, a man who knows he's sold out but believes himself to be enjoying the ride, but Spacey offers poignant glimpses of the man behind all that oily charm and sly glances. There's a scene where he stumbles across a mistake of his making and the subtle, haunted expression playing across his face is amazing. The man was capable of expressing so much, and still is. Crowe was still a couple years from his big breakout in 2000's Gladiator but he put himself on the Hollywood map as Bud White. He's a coil of anger and pain looking for an outlet, and Crowe is magnetic as hell. His glowers could burn right through you. Pearce (Memento) was another knockout that solidified leading man status thanks to his performance as the rigidly self-righteous Exley. He's a character that thinks he's above moral reproach, and his humbling is a necessary part of solving the case. Exley is constantly surprising his peers and it feels like Pearce does the same, showing exciting new capabilities from scene to scene, from his stirring hire-wire act with the interrogation scene to his understated glimmer of fear through a poker face. These three performances are golden. Nobody better represents sleaze than Danny DeVito's character and the man brings a merry lechery to his tabloid journalist/exposition device. His unquenchable thirst for the worst in humanity to sell more papers feels even more sadly relevant given the media climate that contributed to the recent presidential election. Kim Basinger (Batman) won an Oscar for her somber performance, which reinvigorated her career. She's good but I can't help but feel that she won the Oscar in a weak field (my choice would be Julianne Moore for Boogie Nights). David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck) is enjoyably nonplussed as a man who specializes in delivering vice. James Cromwell used every bit of audience warmth associated as the loveable farmer from Babe and used that to his advantage. His pragmatic police captain is a father figure for Exley and the audience and perfectly sets up a turn that leaves the audience spinning even twenty years later. There are little details the could go unnoticed but confirm for me just how much thought was put into L.A. Confidential. Exley is chided by his superiors for wearing glasses as they think it makes him look weak. As the film develops and he gets more immersed in the Nite Owl case, his compulsions against violence and rash judgment start to waver about the same time he stops wearing his glasses, a subtle symbol of his difficulty to see things for what they truly are. I enjoyed that our introduction to Lynn is in a liquor store and she's wearing a winter cloak that strongly resembles a nun's habit. It's a memorable costuming choice and also suggest Lynn's penchant for straddling the line of devotion. The Patchett "whatever your heart desires" line of high-class prostitutes has allusions to our current media culture of celebrity worship and personalized sexual fantasies. It naturally ties into the exploitation of the dream factory of Hollywood that takes young ingénues with dreams in their head and squashes them pitilessly. It's not the first film to explore the darker side of the film industry but that doesn't make its themes lesser. L.A. Confidential feels like the noir thrillers of old but stripped down to its essentials and given a new engine. It's something that celebrates noir thrillers of old and Old Hollywood but it isn't so lavish to either the genre or older time period that it loses sight of its own storytelling goals. The elaborate plot is complex and intensely engaging while still being accessible, populated with memorable and incredibly well developed characters, each given their own purpose and own insights that contribute to the larger whole. Hanson's lasting accomplishment is a near-perfect masterpiece to the power of story structure and characterization. The three lead detectives are compelling on their own terms and the movie keeps them separate long enough that when they do come together it feels like a payoff all its own. Hanson recreates the world of classic film noir and makes it his own, using new Hollywood to lovingly recreate Old Hollywood. It's the kind of movie I can watch again and again and discover new depths. It gave way to a wave of success for its participants. Hanson never quite delivered another movie on the level of L.A. Confidential, though I'll posit that In Her Shoes is an underrated character piece. Helgeland has become a go-to screenwriter for many projects low (The Postman) and high (Mystic River) and became a director for A Knight's Tale and 42. It's a movie that plays just as strongly today as it did almost twenty years ago, and that's the mesmerizing power of great storytelling and acting. L.A. Confidential is a lasting achievement that proves once more the power of our darker impulses. It's stylish, seductive, smart, subversive, and everything you could ask for in a movie. Nate's Grade: A

Nate Zoebl
Nate Zoebl

Super Reviewer

Nice little crime movie, Frank from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has so much range

Spencer Macklin
Spencer Macklin

Super Reviewer

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